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Dis/Honesty and U.S. Immigration Policy

How dependent is the United States on its immigrant population?

May 18, 2006

How dependent is the United States on its immigrant population?

The United States has an unwritten but plain immigration policy.

The U.S. Border Patrol imposes significant risks on people seeking to enter illegally but once inside the country, illegal immigrants usually can find work and remain here. They manage to obtain false documents or work off the books, and they account for at least five percent of the workforce.

The reasons are simple. Whether Americans openly condemn or condone illegal immigration, they are happy to have immigrants do the tough, low-paying jobs native-born Americans don't like.

Americans of all stripes vote for immigration by who they hire to clean their homes and offices, the restaurants they patronize — and the complicity they tolerate from state government officials.

Some veil their choices by hiring cleaning services and caterers instead of housekeepers and cooks, but most everyone participates in the fiction that has become U.S. immigration policy.

While federal authorities have engaged in some well-publicized raids of factories, federal workplace enforcement has been far from comprehensive. Also, federal agencies get precious little help from state governments that issue drivers licenses, administer social services and admit children into schools.

With widespread complicity by individual citizens and state governments, U.S. immigration laws have about as much meaning as speed limits on highways. Some people get caught — but most don't.

Presidents Clinton and Bush both tolerated weak federal enforcement in the workplace and state government indifference to avoid upsetting Hispanics who are already citizens and vote.

Bill Clinton, like other Democrats, is painfully aware that as the grandchildren of European immigrants become more prosperous, they are more likely to vote Republican. Democrats need immigrant voters to remain competitive.

George Bush shrewdly observes Hispanics have socially conservative inclinations, and may not become as reliably Democratic as other minority groups. If Republicans could win just 30% of their votes, Republicans could grab a lock on power for a very long time.

Members of Congress who tout the rule of law and would make illegal aliens felons should first explain to the rest of America where they have been while two presidents so cynically engineered a de facto policy that has given the country 11 million illegal immigrants.

Now President Bush, desperate in the polls, has treated us to an epiphany — and presented a round of foolish proposals.

Putting the National Guard on the border and adding to the Border Patrol won't work. Getting into the United States is worth so much, poor Latinos will find new and more dangerous ways to get into the country.

Requiring illegal workers to obtain guest worker permits and return home when those expire is impractical and nothing more than a fig leaf for amnesty.

The U.S. government simply cannot issue working papers to seven million immigrants and rotate them in and out of the county, because Americans are too dependent on them to perform low-skilled and undesirable jobs. Work permits simply would be renewed again and again.

Deporting unneeded immigrants would break up families. Many immigrants have children who were born in the United States and are citizens. We cannot deport parents without forcing them to either abandon their children or forcing children who are citizens to leave.

U.S. society is premised on the opportunity for upward mobility. Almost every native-born American completes high school — and about two-thirds obtain some post-secondary technical or university education.

If U.S. children are going to keep doing better jobs than their parents, Americans must accept immigrants to clean hotel rooms, work in meat packing plants and the like. Present laws just don't provide for enough immigrants to enter legally to do those jobs.

That is why so many foreign workers are here illegally, and we are going to have to let most of them stay.

The illegal immigration problem won't be solved until employers, federal and state governments and citizens together recognize the need for significant numbers of new Americans each generation — and accept their common responsibility to respect and honor the laws necessary to manage the process.